Archive for April 19th, 2011

What We Learned From Prem Week 33


And Then There Were None…

Spring is always the cruelest of seasons in football. Never more so than for football philosopher king Arsenal Wenger, who has been forced to narrow his gaze somewhat over the last few weeks – first it was the Quadruple that was hideously snatched from his grasp thanks to the kind of defensive fuckupery that must still give him nightmares, then there was that awkward week in mid-March when both the Big Cup and the FA Cup were denied (admittedly by Barcelona and Man U respectively), which left only the League to fight for. And now, thanks to a string of really poor draws, even this looks like a step too far for Wenger’s Fine Young Crap Incapables. [pullthis]Indeed so far and so fast are they failing that it appears that Wenger’s real challenge will be retaining the second spot that Arsenal have occupied for so much of the season[/pullthis].

[pullshow]Watching their latest match against Liverpool was an exercise in frustration that encapsulated the Arsenal season. Nil-nil for the first 100 or so minutes, this was a story of Arsenal pressurising Liverpool into their own half, restricting their ability to play and mastering the game, but, like impotent old men, they were unable to convert pressure into genuine goalscoring attempts let alone goals. Finally in double super extra ‘Fergie Time’  they get and scored a penalty. 1-0 with 102 minutes gone, it’s got to be game over. But no, this is the Arsenal side who’ve managed to let a 4-0 lead slip, who’ve given a cup final away in the last minute, who’ve squandered lead after lead, the masters of turning three points into one (or none), and they don’t do game over. Not this season. For this season they are utterly incapable of holding a lead for even as long as 90 seconds let alone closing out a match for a whole two minutes. So it was no surprise that Liverpool applied about their only meaningful moment of pressure and Arsenal cracked like crazy paving. Softest penalty of the year conceded and that was that, three points become one in a move that was somehow less of a surprise than a ghastly inevitability.

All of which leaves Wenger with a mountain to climb and a load of questions to answer. Question, would a cup final and third (or even second) represent a good season or a disappointing one? Alternatively, why is it that Spurs, who will probably finish outside the top four places and won’t win anything this season are apparently having a ‘great, successful’ season, while Arsenal, who will finish above them, albeit with no trophies either, appear in ‘crisis’? Someone has to get a sense of proportion about this.

Those Somewhat Truncated Games

It was FA Cup semi final weekend, which given that it featured four Prem teams meant that the Prem schedule has now really been thrown out of whack. Oh and in what might be the most ironic moment of the season it sets up Master of Anti-Football and Stoke manager Tony Pulis to possibly win some silverwear while Saviour of The Beautiful Game Wenger wins nothing (again). How galling (not to mention Gaulling) would that be?

Man U‘s draw with Newcastle now seems like less of a dropped two points and more of a grinding nail in the coffin of this least inspiring of all Prem seasons. Mind you their treble challenge was also slapped down as Man City beat them in the FA Cup semi final.

Meanwhile, coming up on the outside it’s the unexpected Chelski juggernaut, the same juggernaut that had looked so impressive in the early stages of the season before going AWOL and crossing the central reservation as it plunged out of control and flew down the table like one of those wayward ‘Look Ma I’ve just had my brakes tampered with and on a steep road with lots of corners would you believe’ 16 wheelers so beloved of ’70s road movies. Their win over West Brom showed that they can do what Arsenal can’t, namely come back and win after conceding early to an Odemwinge strike.

Down among the dead folk, it was another tale of the losers really losing out as West Ham sank to Aston Villa, Real Blackburn lost to Everton, Birmingham didn’t so much beat Sunderland as let Sunderland beat themselves and, most amazingly of all, Wigan managed a win. Admittedly it was against Blackpool, who are just as capable of losing to anyone as they are of playing great football. Mind you this is not a great time to begin losing to those teams around you.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

Proving that there’s nothing new in football, Sunderland played the ‘Wengerboys’ card. This was their youngest ever starting 11 (still it must be said with an average age well over that of the Arsenal first team) and, not content with this apparently critical element of Arsenalness, they combined it with a high defensive line. Against Birmingham. Now Birmingham have a tried and practiced method of dealing with this, namely Route 1 Hoofery. And, showing that there’s nothing that Szczesney and Koscielney can do that lesser mortals can’t emulate, keeper Mignolet and defender Bardsley raced to meet a 70 yard hoof, only to bottle it about three feet out, leave it to the other man and gift Larsson with a tap in.

Laugh? It might have cost them three points, but at least it didn’t lose them a cup final.